Real-life escape games offer respite from daily stresses
It's the new way to have fun in Hong Kong - playing real-life escape games to escape real life
Being blindfolded, handcuffed and locked in a dark room watched by a surveillance camera is not everybody's idea of fun.
But a new game in Hong Kong is striking a chord in the crowded city of seven million, as highly stressed students and overworked young professionals and students look for a way to escape, literally.
"I think Hong Kong is the most stressed city in Asia," said nstant Wan Sze-tang, 27, creator of Freeing HK, a "real escape game" where players must find clues, crack codes and solve puzzles to get out of a locked room.
"There are long working hours, everybody is always talking about money, and there is little entertainment - we only have films and karaoke. People want to find something new and escape from their stress in the money-hungry city. Here, they come from reality into the game."
The attraction has had about 5,000 people come through its doors in the past three months.
The centre is in an anonymous tower block in the heart of Mong Kok. Wan and his business partners are planning to open two more centres, in Causeway Bay and Tsim Sha Tsui.
When players arrive at the centre they break into small groups. For HK$128 each, they take on one of three rooms - "Prison Break", "Lost", or "Dr Alpha" - where they face scenarios that include being handcuffed to your teammate or having to negotiate a Mission Impossible-style laser maze.
Only about one in five successfully find their way out within the 45-minute countdown, pressured by the ticking of the clock and looping piano music drifting through the speakers.
There are no prizes - just the fulfilment of making it out alone or the humiliation of having the door unlocked for you.
The phenomenon originated in Japan, and has spread to mainland China, Taiwan, Singapore and the United States.
Freeing HK takes inspiration from video games and also has similarities to films such as The Game and the Saw series - but without the fear of risking life and limb.
Wan and friends from the high-IQ society Mensa are coming up with new scenarios to keep things fresh. "Three upcoming game designs will be Abandoned Factory, Old Hong Kong, and Hall of Mirrors," he said.
High-school student Michael Wong, 17, came straight from his end-of-term exams with a group of friends.
"We all have to rush our lives," he said. "We just don't get a chance to rest.
"Coming here to live a life we may never know, being trapped in a small room, it's an extraordinary experience."